Wheels: Journeys in Paralympic Sport
This was a major reason behind my taking up wheelchair basketball. From the perspective of staying healthy it was simply a no brainer.
Happily a decent chunk of that has now come back off, and I’m delighted to say I’ve developed muscles in my arms that I never knew existed.
But the benefits go beyond the physical. Accidents like the one I suffered – I spent an uncomfortable amount of time trapped under the wheels of an oil tanker having been hit while cycling and it’s almost easier to name the bones I didn’t break and the nerves I didn’t damage than the ones I did – have a profound psychological impact.
Flashbacks, poor or non-existent sleep, nasty dreams, anxiety attacks: I’ve had the lot. Then there’s the adjustment to an altered physical state, which takes a bit of getting used to as well.
Since taking up the sport, while I’m still a work in progress, my wife says she has noticed a definite improvement in my demeanour. She says: “You’re more like you” and notes that the times when she talks to me and “it’s like you’re just not there” are less frequent. Small wonder, then, that she’s happy to tolerate my disappearing off to hurtle around in a sports chair three times a week.
Of course, I’d been given an introduction to the game through work during the Paralympics, when I was dispatched by The Independent to try some of strange new sports then appearing on Britain’s TV screens.
This wasn’t always as easy as it might sound – getting hold of the right people was in some cases a real struggle.
Basketball, which is the largest disability sport in terms of mass participation, couldn’t have been much easier with its professional website, a highly competent press officer in Stephanie Gagne, and a network of easy to reach clubs.
Tennis, too, we managed without much trouble. The Lawn Tennis Association was the first port of call and it put me in contact with a coach, David Velala, who was happy to arrange a session.
Others proved rather more challenging. The paper was, for example, very keen for me to try and write about wheelchair fencing but despite a fair amount of work I came up empty. I simply wasn’t able to find anywhere that offered the sport in or around London.
There is a flipside to this, however. The sports can find it just as difficult to get hold of eligible players.
In the first edition of this blog I focussed on Ruth Eytle, the cheery London development officer for Great Britain Wheelchair Basketball who has a habit of accosting potential players in the street.
In inviting them to sessions, she may help them clear a significant hurdle: it can be intimidating to turn up unannounced at a sports club. At any club, in fact.
Disability doesn’t just physically make it hard to get out of the house. It often hits people’s self confidence, and then the hurdle gets so high that I suspect many people don’t bother to attempt the jump. After the first session it was a long time before I committed to playing seriously, at a club nearer my home.
How to get over this, short of cloning Ruth or my team mate Rick Cahill, who is similarly evangelistic about getting people involved. I guess there aren’t any easy answers, although I’ve tried to get in touch with a few people who might help. Watch this space.
In the meantime come and try sessions strike me as a good place to start. So if sitting volleyball takes your fancy, and you can get to Romford, there will be one of these at Romford YMCA at 7.15pm on Monday 30th June. All being well sessions should continue regularly after that, or at least once there are sufficient players to support them.
Any other organisation doing similar things, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to include you in future.
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